B.C.'s provincial health officer today released a report that looks at the potential health and social impacts on Aboriginal people in British Columbia as a result of recent changes to federal crime legislation.
"While Aboriginal people represent approximately five per cent of the population of B.C., they represent over one-quarter of admissions into B.C. correctional centres," said Dr. Evan Adams, deputy provincial health officer. "We are concerned that the new federal legislation represents a step backwards and creates circumstances that will likely result in still more Aboriginal youth and adults in prisons, and lower health status for Aboriginal people in correction facilities, as well as their families and communities."
Health, Crime and Doing Time: Potential Impacts of the Safe Streets and Communities Act (Former Bill C-10) on the Health and Well-being of Aboriginal People in British Columbia was developed in response to federal legislation.
The report finds that the Safe Streets and Communities Act, which received Royal Assent in March 2012, will increase the likelihood that youth will be imprisoned, and that Aboriginal people, especially youth and youth in government care, are a vulnerable population that will be disproportionately affected by the act.
Of particular concern, the act:
- Effectively eliminates the requirement to consider the unique circumstances of Aboriginal offenders in accordance with existing legislation.
- Shifts the focus of sentencing toward denunciation and deterrence, de-emphasizing rehabilitation.
- Introduces and expands mandatory minimum sentences for adults.
- Expands the definition of "violent offence" to include offences where a young person's behaviour posed a risk to others, even if it was not intentional and did not result in an injury.
"First Nations are very concerned about the potential effects of the Safe Streets and Communities Act on our citizens who are already massively over-represented in the prison system and all areas of the justice system," said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo. "This legislation is one of the reasons we need to make immediate investments in education, economic opportunities, and safe and secure communities for our people, not only to reduce the number of First Nation people who come into contact with the justice system but to improve the overall health and wellness of First Nations."
The report makes nine recommendations, including that the act be either revoked or substantially amended to ensure that it recognizes the unique history and context of Aboriginal people in Canada, and considers the mental, physical and emotional health and wellness of Aboriginal offenders.
Other recommendations include improving collaboration between the health and justice sectors and with Aboriginal people; focusing on the prevention and diversion of crime; and undertaking comprehensive monitoring and evaluation of the effects of the act.
"I'd like to thank Dr. Kendall and Dr. Adams for preparing a thoughtful and important report that calls on us to engage further with the federal government to ensure that the very valid concerns outlined here are addressed," said B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth, Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond.
B.C. has the second largest Aboriginal population in Canada, after Ontario. In 2006, nearly 200,000 Aboriginal people were living in B.C., representing about 4.8 per cent of the population.
To read a full copy of the report, visit: www.health.gov.bc.ca/pho
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